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Dublin: 8 °C Saturday 19 October, 2019
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Why does Google's homepage say today is the first day of spring?

Let’s clear this up.

IF YOU’VE BEEN on the Google homepage today, you may have seen this nifty little doodle telling us that today is the first day of spring:

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If, however, you live in the 94 per cent of Ireland which suffered under the blanket of rain this morning, you may suspect otherwise:

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Rainfall radar on Met.ie at 9.15am today

It brings up the age-old – well, relatively recently, but whatever – question of when exactly spring begins in Ireland. Is it already here? Are we mid-way through? When does the sunshine actually start, damnit?

There’s three schools of thought about the exact date, so let’s break this down.

1. The pagan version: First up is the version you were probably taught in school. This says that spring starts on 1 February and runs through March and April. Traditionally, pagans honoured Brigid on that date and considered it the first day of spring in the pagan calendar – a tradition that remained even after the church appropriated her and made her a saint.

2. The meterological version: Met Éireann is firm about this: spring starts on 1 March and continues until the end of May, noting that it was “in past times” that the start of February was considered the start of spring, but no more. Meterologists use a temperature-based system to determine the season, meaning the warmest months of the year are June, July and August, which officially count as summer.

3. The equinox version: So given that, why is Google pushing this 20 March date? It’s because of the vernal equinox which happens today – the day when the day and the night are both 12 hours long. An equinox happens twice a year (the second time will be on 22 September) and was traditionally used to mark spring and harvest.

The difference between using this and 1 March as the date for spring comes down to whether you prefer the astronomical system of seasons or the meterological one. This astronomical one runs approximately three weeks later than the meterological calendar and can fall on slightly different days each year because it is based on the position of Earth’s orbit in relation to the sun, taking into account equinoxes and solstices.

Random fact: The word ‘equinox’ is derived from the Latin for equal (aequus) and night (nox).

So there you have it. In the meantime, we’re going to be keeping these close at hand.

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(Pic: Susan Daly)

Column: When does spring really start? Let’s clear this up once and for all >


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